An invitation to an evangelist to speak at the World’s Largest Brat Fest was rescinded Monday after it attracted negative publicity, the organizer of the event said.
Bob Lenz, who is linked to a group that opposes abortion, was expected to give a talk about teen suicide at Brat Fest, said Tim Metcalfe, the co-owner of the grocery stores that co-sponsor the four-day event that starts Friday at the Alliant Energy Center.
But numerous negative comments that followed a story in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal that included details about Lenz’s appearance helped lead him to believe that “maybe this isn’t the right venue for it,” Metcalfe said.
“Brat Fest is a community event that draws us all together. We listen to what the community has to say. That’s what I think we’ve done t,” Metcalfe said.
Metcalfe’s decision was lauded by Dane County Sup. Carousel Bayrd. She said some elected officials and community leaders from Madison signed a letter she was going to send to Metcalfe asking him to uninvite Lenz. She added that several women told her they were going to cancel plans to volunteer at Brat Fest if Lenz spoke there.
“He may not have been speaking about abortion, but (Lenz) is a very hateful person and should not be a speaker here in Madison,” Bayrd said. “Tim did a good thing by canceling that invitation.”
Lenz is the founder of Lifest, a large Christian music festival in Oshkosh and heads a group called Life Promotions based in Appleton that sends speakers across the country to talk about various faith-based topics.
He also is linked to Save the Storks, a group based in Colorado Springs that parks buses outside abortion clinics and offers free ultrasound images to pregnant women. He just completed a 40-day tour on behalf of the Save the Storks’ “Stork Bus,” in which he spoke at 25 rallies.
“That Stork group targets vulnerable women, harasses women, deceives women and tells them lies about what happens when they have abortions,” Bayrd said.
In a statement, Lenz said that “the last thing I want is to divert from a great community event that raises money for charities and have it focus on me instead.”
He also said he hoped the controversy will cause civil and respectful dialogue.
“We have to stop allowing the media to divide us as a people and a human race and to live out the message that you can disagree with someone and still show them respect,” Lenz said. “The touchstone of our society is to show tolerance and respect for different ideas without enforcing conformity to one idea.”
Metcalfe said Monday that he hadn’t talked to Lenz since rescinding the invitation. He added he wasn’t disappointed and was focused on other additions to Brat Fest such as a car show, a kids zone and a volleyball tournament.
Lenz was supposed to speak at 5:30 p.m. Saturday from a new Christian stage called Lifest, which will be set up primarily for musicians. The decision to add the stage followed a partnership between Metcalfe and Lifest officials after Metcalfe attended the Oshkosh event last year to get some tips on setting up for a big event and also reaffirmed his religious beliefs.
“We’re focused on making Brat Fest a regional draw for the city of Madison. That’s been our focus all along,” Metcalfe said.